Prime Minister David Cameron, the day after being defeated on sending troops to Syria. He does not look worse for the wear. (Image Source: Reuters)
Yesterday, in an expected but still somewhat surprising development, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom defeated a motion put forth by Prime Minister David Cameroon to join the impending United States-led military intervention in Syria. The motion to join the intervention lost by 13 votes, as did an amendment by the Labour Party to wait for the results on UN inspections from the chemical weapons attack in Damascus. However, rather than groveling about in his defeat after making such an ardent push, Prime Minister Cameron accepted the defeat and promised not to press the option of military action further. Cameron even went so far to say that he feels no need to apologize to President Barack Obama for obeying the wishes of his people.
The significance of this vote is not to be understated. When the Prime Minister in the UK puts out a motion to go to war or send troops, the motion almost always passes. The last time a British vote to go to war ended in defeat was 1782. The Prime Minister was Lord North, and his motion was to continue the war in America against the colonies after a disastrous defeat in Yorktown, Virginia. The Parliamentary defeat ultimately led to the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States becoming an independent nation, and the end of Lord North's political dominance in British politics.
What haunts the House of Commons in regards to Syria is not that defeat, however, but the passing of another war motion in 2003. Then, Prime Minister Tony Blair overwhelmingly passed a motion to send troops to Iraq as part of American-backed invasion of Iraq, despite significant opposition to the war from the British public. While the initial invasion was a success, the subsequent occupation of the country turned into a quagmire which tarnished the country's reputation, and may have been a factor in the July 7, 2005 bombings in London. That vote remained on many MPs' minds yesterday, not wanting to make the same mistake twice with Syria.
Still, that Prime Minister Cameron accepted his defeat graciously and accepted the will of the people and Parliament in regards to Syria is important. It means that he is willing to stand up for democracy in his own homeland rather than attempt to project it elsewhere. It is important that democracy be demonstrated at home first before it be spread elsewhere. This is not what we are seeing in America: President Obama is planning a military strike in Syria in the coming days with his national security team, and has only briefed some members of Congress on the matter. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to authorize war, yet the President seems to ignore this important aspect by claiming it not to be war. Given the public's near-unanimous disapproval of a military strike, and desire that it at least gain Congressional approval, Obama would be wise to at least heed the Constitution on Syria, and do something else if it fails. Even Bush did that with Iraq.